Wednesday, 7 February 2018
Medusa (1929) by E. H. Visiak
Edward Harold Physick, pacifist, author and life long admirer of Milton is better known under his pseudonym of E. H. Visiak. However, one assumes that most people know Visiak not from any perusal of his work per se, but from reading about other people talking about how they perused his work.
For, despite being an oft cited and oft repeated name in various biographies, essays and studies of the Weird and Fantastic in fiction, Visiak shares the fate of H. R. Wakefield, in that his actual books are no easily accessible to the public, beyond maybe a snippet that gets released in anthologies ad nauseam. Visiak, who apparently only wrote the few occasional scattered tales that never even found an anthology to this day, does not even have that luxury.
Medusa is often cited as a masterpiece of the form. Indeed, Wagner puts it on his list of 33 best Horror novels, though given the man put something as flawed and mishandled as The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck on the same list means that is in and of itself no great honour. Indeed, if one is to compare Medusa to anything, it should be Visiak's own The Haunted Island (1910), his first novel.
That story, while occasionally containing anecdotes that distract from the tale, is also a tale of a youth who escapes England on board a ship following his own entanglement with the law. But where in Island Visiak manages to keep the theme going strong and only bungles the ending (by having the 17th century mad scientist bent on blowing up England just sort of give up on his evil schemes, because), Medusa is sadly an instance where an impressive near-mid end or culmination of the story is bogged down by a dronning middle.
The beginning of the novel is fine, with the main character going through many unfortunate events and tragedies in his young life that, spaced as they are during a period of many years, allow one to experience their atmosphere in quick succession, giving one false hope that the entire novel would be written in this fashion. Sadly, the middle part, where Will, the main character, joins Huxtables sea expedition to find his son, is the longest and most drawn out. Visiak finds it necessary to encumber his readers with many unnecessary details about the various stops the ship makes along the way and of the mundane sights and sounds one gets to see in the harbour. When the novel starts with Wil killing his grandfather and then beating a bully to death, one can't help but hope for something more exciting than spending several pages talking about a port town and how the shipyard has a crane.
The worst part of this section are the occasional moments where Will's benefactor Mr. Huxtable attempts to imprint some bogus philosophical claptrap onto his protegé. These are dull and tedious and simply stretch out the book until something mildly interesting happens again.
The appearance of a strange merman-like creature on board is not given enough attention and is treated more like a curiosity, and the only way Visiak thought to be able to introduce the lore that is given as explanation behind everything going on is delivered in a droning tone going on about extra sensory drivel that honestly doesn't rise above random, hackneyed digressions on such themes from writers who have no business holding a pen. The climax itself is startling, yes, but it's not quite enough to balance out the tedious journey there, especially given how short it is.
The ending itself is abrupt and feels like a concluding statement is missing, the story simply stopping. It's sad that the novels best parts are so weighed down by the travelogue portion of the story, so tedious the author finds it necessary to excuse himself for his own sluggishness at points. If that were cut down, maybe this novel could be an actual living classic and not only called such by essayists who feel it is their moral obligation to follow the Authorities. Maybe then one could obtain the English language edition of the book for less than 65 Pounds, which, had I paid as much and not simply gotten the dirt cheap German translation, I would definitely not feel a worthwhile price.